If I were to ask you, without explanation, if you were a caterpillar, butterfly, or milkweed, how do you think you would respond? Perhaps you currently embody more than one of these forms
Let me explain by telling you a story of a little girl. She started this world as a curious caterpillar. Her parents were her milkweeds. They fed her knowledge and had seemingly unwavering faith in their daughter’s ability to accomplish anything. This little caterpillar never doubted her ability to achieve her dreams because of the confidence her parents had in her. When she said, “I want to be the first female baseball player,” they said, “Ok, let’s go practice.” When she said that she wanted to be the first female president, they said, “Ok, let’s learn about the United States.” When this girl was a 3rd grader, another, new milkweed appeared. This one told her, “You are an athlete, you should play volleyball.” This third grader took on a new identity as an athlete. Volleyball became her everything – she probably even owned one of those bumper stickers that said Volleyball is Life and slapped it on her super cool Nalgene bottle. Volleyball turned her into a butterfly for that moment in her life. She thrived when she was on the court with her five teammates, bumping, setting, spiking, and serving.
Later, in her teenage years, when she said, “I want to be a surgeon.” Her parents said, “Let’s go talk to the head of the physiology department at UW-Madison.” They were her biggest fans. When she said, “I want to join the military,” they supported her when it was against their better judgment. At this point, the teenager was in her chrysalis mode. Turning into the adult she was meant to be. Ends up the military wasn’t for her – not enough autonomy. Also, it turns out she didn’t want to work in a hospital all day – you know the smells, the lights, and the lack of nature.
Since then, this person (me) has ebbed and flowed between a caterpillar and butterfly. Growing and becoming the person I’m destined to become. There is one tried and true promise I made to myself on the streets of Baghdad – to never do anything I didn’t love because life is too fleeting. Which is why I currently find myself in the role of a business consultant. I want to continue to help as many people as I can, but with more flexibility and opportunities for innovation. Believe it or not, the milkweed that gave me the most confidence is someone who literally called me a “magical unicorn” to describe my talents. That milkweed must be working with fairy dust – jealous!
Having had two amazing milkweeds for parents and many others along the way, I strive to be milkweed for others, to help them become the best version of their own butterflies. Sometimes all we need is someone to see our talents and give us a nudge in life.
For example, as a principal, I would often go out for lunch/recess duty to help monitor the students but also to forge positive relationships. And, for some reason, the students were better behaved when I was around.
Within one week, I had three different adults talk to me about a student’s athletic ability. He wasn’t out for sports, he wasn’t particularly athletic-looking, but dang…. He could throw a football, a frisbee, or kick a ball better than most of his peers. So I put my milkweed hat on and aspired to create a butterfly of athleticism in him. I shared with him that he’s an outstanding athlete and that many other adults agreed. That spring he went out for track and broke a school record.
Wouldn’t it be amazing if we all had milkweeds in our life? Can you imagine the potential that could exist in this world if everyone not only felt the confidence, but had the foundational support to make their dreams, aspirations, and their skills sing?
Now let’s talk, for a moment, about what happens when the opposite is true. Let’s go back to the volleyball-is-life-girl. She once had a coach that told her there was no way she would play for a D-1 school. Guess who lost her zest for volleyball. She once had a boss who didn’t give her the time of day. Guess who took her talents elsewhere. She had individuals who treated her differently when she was a woman in a man’s world. Guess who did things not entirely in line with her own character so that she could be treated as “one of the guys.”
Folks. Our words matter. They can make and break a dream in an instant. They can twist someone’s ideals around. We need to build each other up. Speak positive and encouraging words. You never know when your thoughts might become someone else’s destiny. Be a milkweed and bring back the butterflies.